Hearing and Seeing Evils: Returning to Aeschylus’ “Agamemnon” Online

Aeschylus, Agamemnon 1369

“Conjecture is not knowledge.”

τὸ γὰρ τοπάζειν τοῦ σάφ᾽ εἰδέναι δίχα.

Today the  Center for Hellenic Studies , the Kosmos Society and Out of Chaos Theatre return to the scene of the crime, well murder, well, justifiable homicide of Agamemnon in a special presentation directed by Tabatha Gayle.

Aeschylus, Agamemnon 855-860

“Citizens, this elder pride of Argives,
I will feel not shame at revealing
my spousal love to you. In time, human fear
turns to dust. I will tell you of my own
miserable live, not something I learned from others,
all that time when this man was below the city of Troy.”

ἄνδρες πολῖται, πρέσβος Ἀργείων τόδε,
οὐκ αἰσχυνοῦμαι τοὺς φιλάνορας τρόπους
λέξαι πρὸς ὑμᾶς· ἐν χρόνῳ δ᾿ ἀποφθίνει
τὸ τάρβος ἀνθρώποισιν. οὐκ ἄλλων πάρα
μαθοῦσ᾿ ἐμαυτῆς δύσφορον λέξω βίον
τοσόνδ᾿ ὁσόνπερ οὗτος ἦν ὑπ᾿ Ἰλίῳ

This week we trturn to the first play of Aeschylus’ Oresteia, the Agamemnon. How famous is the story of Orestes and his father? So famous that it is the story Zeus contemplates at the beginning of the Homeric Odyssey as he looks down in frustration on the man who murdered Agamemnon. Atreus’ son, Agamemnon, appears in the middle of the epic (book 11) and at its end, complaining at each point bitterly about his disloyal wife, Klytemnestra, and praising the vengeance meted out by his son Orestes.

The story of the family of Agamemnon, however, extends before the Trojan War and then after until the death of Achilles’ son Neoptolemos. it starts back with Tantalos and Pelops in Asia Minor before it moves to the Peloponnese through sacrilegious meals, infanticide and fraternal war, all themes highlighted in the main cause of Klytemnestra’s rage, the killing of their daughter Iphigenia at Aulis.

If this story sounds familiar, it is because it is! In this series, we have heard variations of this tale from Sophocles and Euripides, contemplating both its beginnings and its ends. Indeed, ancient audiences would have been as familiar with the story as Zeus at the beginning of the Odyssey, shaking their heads and wondering how this version will play out.

This play begins with Agamemnon’s return home, but focuses on Klytemnestra’s anger and her power. It features some of the most challenging and memorable choral odes extant from the ancient world. It has a raving, yet lucid Kassandra. And at the core of the play, a murderous king’s bloody return home.

Aeschylus, Agamemnon 914-917

“Child of Leda, guardian of my home,

“You have spoken aptly to my absence,
Since you have gone on at length. But proper praise
Ought to be a prize won from different sources.”

Λήδας γένεθλον, δωμάτων ἐμῶν φύλαξ,
ἀπουσίᾳ μὲν εἶπας εἰκότως ἐμῇ·
μακρὰν γὰρ ἐξέτεινας· ἀλλ᾿ ἐναισίμως
αἰνεῖν, παρ᾿ ἄλλων χρὴ τόδ᾿ ἔρχεσθαι γέρα


Tamieka Chavis
Rene Thompson
Zack Dictakis
Gabby Weltman
Special Guest and Director: Tabatha Gayle

Aeschylus, Agamemnon 684-696

“Whoever pronounced a name
So thoroughly true?
Wasn’t it someone we’d not see
Guiding the tongue with luck
From a foreknowledge of fate?
Who named the spear-bride,
Struggled-over woman
For, appropriately,
That ship-killer [hele-nas], man-killer [hel-andros]
City-killer [hele-ptolis], sailed
From her fine-spun, curtains
On the breath of great Zephyr
and many-manned bands
Of shield-bearers followed
The vanished journey struck
By the oars to the banks
Of leafy Simois

For a bloody strife.”
Χο. τίς ποτ’ ὠνόμαξεν ὧδ’
ἐς τὸ πᾶν ἐτητύμως—
μή τις ὅντιν’ οὐχ ὁρῶ-
μεν προνοί-
αισι τοῦ πεπρωμένου
γλῶσσαν ἐν τύχᾳ νέμων; —τὰν
δορίγαμβρον ἀμφινεικῆ
θ’ ῾Ελέναν; ἐπεὶ πρεπόντως
ἑλένας, ἕλανδρος, ἑλέ-
πτολις, ἐκ τῶν ἁβροπήνων
προκαλυμμάτων ἔπλευσε
Ζεφύρου γίγαντος αὔρᾳ,
τε φεράσπιδες κυναγοὶ
κατ’ ἴχνος πλατᾶν ἄφαντον
κελσάντων Σιμόεντος
ἀκτὰς ἐπ’ ἀεξιφύλλους
δι’ ἔριν αἱματόεσσαν.

Producers and Crew

Artistic Director: Paul O’Mahony (Out of Chaos Theatre)
Director of Outreach: Amy Pistone (Gonzaga University)
Executive Producer: Allie Marbry (Center for Hellenic Studies)
Producers: Keith DeStone (Center for Hellenic Studies), Hélène Emeriaud, Janet Ozsolak, and Sarah Scott (Kosmos Society)
Poster Artist: John Koelle
Poster Designer: Allie Marbry (Center for Hellenic Studies)

Aristophanes, Assemblywomen 176-183

“[Zeus] puts mortals on
The journey of comprehension.
And made this the powerful law:
We learn by suffering.
Pain-recalling trouble trickles
Through the heart in sleep—
And wisdom comes just so
To the unwilling.
The gods seated on their sacred seats
Bestow a hard grace I think.”

Ζῆνα δέ τις προφρόνως ἐπινίκια κλάζων
τεύξεται φρενῶν τὸ πᾶν,
τὸν φρονεῖν βροτοὺς ὁδώ-
σαντα, τὸν πάθει μάθος
θέντα κυρίως ἔχειν.
στάζει δ’ ἀνθ’ ὕπνου πρὸ καρδίας
μνησιπήμων πόνος· καὶ παρ’ ἄ-
κοντας ἦλθε σωφρονεῖν.
δαιμόνων δέ που χάρις βίαιος
σέλμα σεμνὸν ἡμένων.

Virginia Woolf, On Not Knowing Greek

If then in Sophocles the play is concentrated in the figures themselves, and in Euripides is to be retrieved from flashes of poetry and questions far flung and unanswered, Aeschylus makes these little dramas (the Agamemnon has 1663 lines; Lear about 2600) tremendous by stretching every phrase to the utmost, by sending them floating forth in metaphors, by bidding them rise up and stalk eyeless and majestic through the scene. To understand him it is not so necessary to understand Greek as to understand poetry. It is necessary to take that dangerous leap through the air without the support of words which Shakespeare also asks of us. For words, when opposed to such a blast of meaning, must give out, must be blown astray, and only by collecting in companies convey the meaning which each one separately is too weak to express. Connecting them in a rapid flight of the mind we know instantly and instinctively what they mean, but could not decant that meaning afresh into any other words. There is an ambiguity which is the mark of the highest poetry; we cannot know exactly what it means. Take this from the Agamemnon for instance–

      ὀμμάτων δ’ ἐν ἀχηνίαις

          ἔρρει πᾶσ’ ᾿Αφροδίτα.

The meaning is just on the far side of language. It is the meaning which in moments of astonishing excitement and stress we perceive in our minds without words; it is the meaning that Dostoevsky (hampered as he was by prose and as we are by translation) leads us to by some astonishing run up the scale of emotions and points at but cannot indicate; the meaning that Shakespeare succeeds in snaring.

Aeschylus thus will not give, as Sophocles gives, the very words that people might have spoken, only so arranged that they have in some mysterious way a general force, a symbolic power, nor like Euripides will he combine incongruities and thus enlarge his little space, as a small room is enlarged by mirrors in odd corners. By the bold and running use of metaphor he will amplify and give us, not the thing itself, but the reverberation and reflection which, taken into his mind, the thing has made; close enough to the original to illustrate it, remote enough to heighten, enlarge, and make splendid.

Aeschylus, Agamemnon, 37-39

“This house itself, if it found a voice,
Would be able to speak most clearly. I am talking
Willingly to those who know and forget for those who know nothing.”

…οἶκος δ᾿ αὐτός, εἰ φθογγὴν λάβοι,
σαφέστατ᾿ ἂν λέξειεν· ὡς ἑκὼν ἐγὼ
μαθοῦσιν αὐδῶ κοὐ μαθοῦσι λήθομαι.

This World Was Not Made for Us

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 174-181

“When people pretend that gods made everything
For them, they appear to have wandered off
From true reason in every possible way.

For while I might be ignorant of the first beginnings,
I would still dare to assert from heaven’s basic traits
–And to show as well from many other things–
That the nature of the universe was not divinely made
For us, because its faults are just too great.”

…. quorum omnia causa
constituisse deos cum fingunt, omnibu’ rebus
magno opere a vera lapsi ratione videntur.
nam quamvis rerum ignorem primordia quae sint,
hoc tamen ex ipsis caeli rationibus ausim
confirmare aliisque ex rebus reddere multis,
nequaquam nobis divinitus esse creatam
naturam mundi: tanta stat praedita culpa

Map of the observable universe. From left to right the known celestial bodies are arranged according to their proximity to the Earth. In the right border we find the most distant objects observed that are GRBs, quasars, galaxies and the cosmic microwave background radiation.
Pablo Carlos Budassi, “Map of the Observable Universe”

Hesiod’s House of Horrors

Hesiod: Theogony 720-744

. . . As far as heaven is from earth
Just as far is earth from gloomy Tartarus.
Bronze space junk would tumble through the sky
Nine nights and days, reaching earth on the tenth;
And so a bronze anvil tumbling from earth would fall
Nine nights and days, reaching Tartarus on the tenth.

A bronze wall was thrown up around Tartarus.
Triple-layered night was poured around its neck,
And the roots of earth and barren sea grew above it.
It’s there the Titan gods were locked away
—the will of Zeus, cloud gatherer—
In gloomy darkness, damp musty place
At the vast earth’s distant end.

They cannot leave.
Poseidon set bronze doors in place,
And a wall encircled the whole.
There Gyes and Cottus established themselves,
And great-hearted Obriareus did too,
Trusted watchmen for aegis-bearing Zeus.

The source and limit of everything
Line up there: that of dark earth,
Gloomy Tartarus, the barren sea,
And the star-studded sky.
Horrid damp musty—even the gods detest it.

A huge pit, this: you couldn’t reach bottom
in a year, assuming you got within its gates.
No, bruising squall after squall would carry you
This way and that. A Terrible monstrosity,
Even to the deathless gods.

. . . ὅσον οὐρανός ἐστ᾽ ἀπὸ γαίης:
τόσσον γάρ τ᾽ ἀπὸ γῆς ἐς Τάρταρον ἠερόεντα.
ἐννέα γὰρ νύκτας τε καὶ ἤματα χάλκεος ἄκμων
οὐρανόθεν κατιὼν δεκάτῃ κ᾽ ἐς γαῖαν ἵκοιτο:
ἐννέα δ᾽ αὖ νύκτας τε καὶ ἤματα χάλκεος ἄκμων
ἐκ γαίης κατιὼν δεκάτῃ κ᾽ ἐς Τάρταρον ἵκοι.
τὸν πέρι χάλκεον ἕρκος ἐλήλαται: ἀμφὶ δέ μιν νὺξ
τριστοιχεὶ κέχυται περὶ δειρήν: αὐτὰρ ὕπερθεν
γῆς ῥίζαι πεφύασι καὶ ἀτρυγέτοιο θαλάσσης.
ἔνθα θεοὶ Τιτῆνες ὑπὸ ζόφῳ ἠερόεντι
κεκρύφαται βουλῇσι Διὸς νεφεληγερέταο
χώρῳ ἐν εὐρώεντι, πελώρης ἔσχατα γαίης.
τοῖς οὐκ ἐξιτόν ἐστι. θύρας δ᾽ ἐπέθηκε Ποσειδέων
χαλκείας, τεῖχος δὲ περοίχεται ἀμφοτέρωθεν.
ἔνθα Γύης Κόττος τε καὶ Ὀβριάρεως μεγάθυμος
ναίουσιν, φύλακες πιστοὶ Διὸς αἰγιόχοιο.
ἔνθα δὲ γῆς δνοφερῆς καὶ Ταρτάρου ἠερόεντος
πόντου τ᾽ ἀτρυγέτοιο καὶ οὐρανοῦ ἀστερόεντος
ἑξείης πάντων πηγαὶ καὶ πείρατ᾽ ἔασιν
ἀργαλέ᾽ εὐρώεντα, τά τε στυγέουσι θεοί περ,
χάσμα μέγ᾽, οὐδέ κε πάντα τελεσφόρον εἰς ἐνιαυτὸν
οὖδας ἵκοιτ᾽, εἰ πρῶτα πυλέων ἔντοσθε γένοιτο,
ἀλλά κεν ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα φέροι πρὸ θύελλα θυέλλῃ
ἀργαλέη: δεινὸν δὲ καὶ ἀθανάτοισι θεοῖσι
τοῦτο τέρας. . . .

Ancient sources attest that this sign was prominently displayed on the gates of Tartarus.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

Adrift in Exile: Returning to Euripides’ “Heracleidae” Online

Euripides, Heracleidae 179-180 (Full text on the Scaife Viewer)

“Who could judge or recognize a speech as just,
Before clearly understanding the issue from both sides?”

τίς ἂν δίκην κρίνειεν ἢ γνοίη λόγον,
πρὶν ἂν παρ᾿ ἀμφοῖν μῦθον ἐκμάθῃ σαφῶς;

Poster for a performance of Euripdies Children of Herakles on OCtover 22 at 3 PM ESTlive Link


Euripides, Heracleidae 26-27

“I share my exile with these children who are in exile,
And I share in their sufferings as they suffer too.”

ἐγὼ δὲ σὺν φεύγουσι συμφεύγω τέκνοις
καὶ σὺν κακῶς πράσσουσι συμπράσσω κακῶς,

The “Children of Herakles”, was performed around 430 BCE, just as the Athenians were beginning their 3 decade war against the Spartans. It may not be Euripides’ most famous play, but it has just about everything you’d ask for in a tragedy: theme of Xenia, suppliancy, noble bloodlines, battle, human sacrifice, gender, a war scene described in a messenger speech, revenge.

Like any good tragedy, it focuses on the choices human beings make outside of their fate and divine meddling. But its end is troubling, perhaps reflecting the world outside of the play, where violence is far from distant and death for many is certain. For while this is the year that Athens repels a Spartan invasion and attacks the Peloponnese, it is also the first year of the famous plague. This play, so focused on the descendants of Herakles and the end of feuds, seems so precariously set at the beginnings of things.

Euripides, Heracleidae 427-430

 “Children, we are like sailors who have fled
A savage storm’s blows to touch the land
With their hand only to be pounded back
From the shore to the sea by the winds again.”

ὦ τέκν᾿, ἔοιγμεν ναυτίλοισιν οἵτινες
χειμῶνος ἐκφυγόντες ἄγριον μένος
ἐς χεῖρα γῇ συνῆψαν, εἶτα χερσόθεν
πνοαῖσιν ἠλάθησαν ἐς πόντον πάλιν.

Scenes (George Theodorids’ translation)


Demophon/Eurystheus: Tim Delap
Makaria: Tabatha Gayle
Kopreas: Paul O’Mahony
Iolaos: René Thornton Jr
Alcmene: Gabriella Weltman
Special Guest: Katherine Lu Hsu

Euripides, Heracleidae, Medea 863-866

“…with his current fortune
He announces for all mortals a clear thing to learn,
Do not envy someone who seems to be lucky
Before you see them die. For each day is its own fortune.”

…τῇ δὲ νῦν τύχῃ
βροτοῖς ἅπασι λαμπρὰ κηρύσσει μαθεῖν,
τὸν εὐτυχεῖν δοκοῦντα μὴ ζηλοῦν πρὶν ἂν
θανόντ᾿ ἴδῃ τις· ὡς ἐφήμεροι τύχαι.

Artistic Director: Paul O’Mahony (Out of Chaos Theatre)
Director of Outreach: Amy Pistone (Gonzaga University)
Producers: Keith DeStone (Center for Hellenic Studies), Hélène Emeriaud, Janet Ozsolak, and Sarah Scott (Kosmos Society)
Poster Artist: John Koelle
Poster Designer: Allie Marbry (Center for Hellenic Studies)

Euripides, Heracleidae 1016-1017

“Although I don’t long for death,
I wouldn’t be annoyed at leaving life behind.”

….θανεῖν μὲν οὐ
χρῄζω, λιπὼν δ᾿ ἂν οὐδὲν ἀχθοίμην βίον.

Euripides, Heracleidae 1-6

“For a long time now this has been my belief
One man is born just those near him
While another’s heart lusts after profit
And he is useless to the city, a heavy burden to bear,
The ‘best’ to himself…”

Πάλαι ποτ᾿ ἐστὶ τοῦτ᾿ ἐμοὶ δεδογμένον·
ὁ μὲν δίκαιος τοῖς πέλας πέφυκ᾿ ἀνήρ,
ὁ δ᾿ ἐς τὸ κέρδος λῆμ᾿ ἔχων ἀνειμένον
πόλει τ᾿ ἄχρηστος· καὶ συναλλάσσειν βαρύς,
αὑτῷ δ᾿ ἄριστος·…

Water and Dirt: A Curse

Homer, Iliad 7.97-100 [Menelaos speaking to the Achaeans]

“This is going to be a truly awful disgrace
unless some Greek goes against Hektor now.
But I wish you would all turn into water and dirt
Each of you sitting there, similarly feckless, fameless.”

ἦ μὲν δὴ λώβη τάδε γ’ ἔσσεται αἰνόθεν αἰνῶς
εἰ μή τις Δαναῶν νῦν ῞Εκτορος ἀντίος εἶσιν.
ἀλλ’ ὑμεῖς μὲν πάντες ὕδωρ καὶ γαῖα γένοισθε
ἥμενοι αὖθι ἕκαστοι ἀκήριοι ἀκλεὲς αὔτως·

Schol. bT+T ad Il.7.99

“I hope you become water and dirt”. Water and earth are elements that don’t move by their nature, but other things move through them. So, he is rebuking them in this way for their paralysis.

Or, this means that they are made of these substances and he is praying they will dissolve back into them. So Xenophanes says: “we are all made of dirt and water / and everything from earth returns to earth again.”

Or, he says this because water destroys souls.”

ὕδωρ καὶ γαῖα γένοισθε: τῶν στοιχείων ὕδωρ καὶ γῆ κατὰ φύσιν ἀκίνητα, τὰ δὲ ἄλλα κινητὰ δι’ ἑαυτῶν. ταῦτα οὖν φησι τὴν ἀκινησίαν ὀνειδίζων·

ἢ ἐξ ὧν συνεστήκασιν, εἰς ταῦτα αὐτοὺς ἀναλυθῆναι εὔχεται καὶ Ξενοφάνης πάντες γὰρ γαίης τε καὶ ὕδατος ἐκγενόμε<σ>θα· / ἐκ γῆς γὰρ †πάντα καὶ εἰς γῆν πάντα τελευτᾷ.”

ἢ ὅτι τὸ ὕδωρ τὰς ψυχὰς διαφθείρει.

A photograph of a tan colored mountain in the background with a blue lake in the foreground
Placid water on Lake Powell

The Cruelty Off Stage, Spoken Yet Unseen

Homer, Iliad 6.53-62

“And then [Menelaos] was intending to give Adrastus
To an attendant to take back to the Achaeans’ swift ships
But Agamemnon came rushing in front of him and spoke commandingly
“Oh my fool Menelaos, why do you care so much about people?
Did your house suffer the best treatment by the Trojans?
Let none of them flee dread death at our hands,
Not even  a mother who carries in her womb
a child that will be a boy, let not one flee, but instead
Let everyone at Troy perish, unwept and unseen.”

The hero spoke like this and changed his brother’s mind,
Since he advised properly…

καὶ δή μιν τάχ᾽ ἔμελλε θοὰς ἐπὶ νῆας Ἀχαιῶν
δώσειν ᾧ θεράποντι καταξέμεν: ἀλλ᾽ Ἀγαμέμνων
ἀντίος ἦλθε θέων, καὶ ὁμοκλήσας ἔπος ηὔδα:
‘ὦ πέπον ὦ Μενέλαε, τί ἢ δὲ σὺ κήδεαι οὕτως
ἀνδρῶν; ἦ σοὶ ἄριστα πεποίηται κατὰ οἶκον
πρὸς Τρώων; τῶν μή τις ὑπεκφύγοι αἰπὺν ὄλεθρον
χεῖράς θ᾽ ἡμετέρας, μηδ᾽ ὅν τινα γαστέρι μήτηρ
κοῦρον ἐόντα φέροι, μηδ᾽ ὃς φύγοι, ἀλλ᾽ ἅμα πάντες
Ἰλίου ἐξαπολοίατ᾽ ἀκήδεστοι καὶ ἄφαντοι.

ὣς εἰπὼν ἔτρεψεν ἀδελφειοῦ φρένας ἥρως
αἴσιμα παρειπών:

Schol, bT ad Il 6.58-59 ex [from the Erbse edition]

 “these words are hateful and ill-fit to a noble manner. For they indicate a savageness of spirit and any human audience member will hate the excess bitterness and inhumanity. This is why tragedians hide people who do these kinds of things on stage and signal what was done either through the sound of some voices or through messengers later, for no other reason than they might be hated for what was done”

μηδ’ ὅντινα<—μηδ’ ὃς φύγοι>: μισητὰ καὶ οὐχἁρμόζοντα βασιλικῷ ἤθει τὰ ῥήματα· τρόπου γὰρ ἐνδείκνυσι θηριότητα, ὁ δὲ ἀκροατὴς ἄνθρωπος ὢν μισεῖ τὸ ἄγαν πικρὸν καὶ ἀπάνθρωπον. ὅθεν κἀν ταῖς τραγῳδίαις κρύπτουσι τοὺς δρῶντας τὰ τοιαῦτα ἐν ταῖς σκηναῖς καὶ ἢ φωναῖς τισιν ἐξακουομέναις ἢ δι’ ἀγγέλων ὕστερον σημαίνουσι τὰ πραχθέντα, οὐδὲν ἄλλο ἢ φοβούμενοι, μὴ αὐτοὶ συμμισηθῶσι τοῖς δρωμένοις….

A few more glosses from the scholia

Schol b ad Il. 6.59

“Who is a boy”: because a female infant would be useless for battle

<κοῦρον ἐόντα:> ἄχρηστον γὰρ εἰς μάχην τὸ θῆλυ.

Schol bT ad Il. 6.60a

ἀκήδεστοι: “unmourned” for people who don’t have someone grieving them

ἄφαντοι: “unseen” because no one leaves behind a grave marker for them

ἀκήδεστοι: μὴ ἔχοντες τὸν κηδεύοντα.

ἄφαντοι: ὡς μηδὲ μνημεῖον αὐτῶν παραλείπεσθαι.


Schol bT ad Il. 6.62

αἴσιμα παρειπών: “fated things” or “things proper for people who have done wrong”. The poet bears witness to how correctly Agamemnon has ordered his speech.”

αἴσιμα παρειπών: εἱμαρμένα, ἢ τὰ πρέποντα τοῖς ἀδικουμένοις. ἐμαρτύρησε δὲ ὁ ποιητὴς αὐτῷ ὡς καλῶς διαθεμένῳ τοὺς λόγους.

black-figured amphora: the death of Priam; Priam is being battered to death with the body of his grandson Astyanax. BM 1842,0314.3


Anger, Eggs, and Some Semen: A Recipe for Apostasy

Further adventures in the Homeric Scholia

Schol. b ad Il. 2.783

“They report that Gaia, annoyed over the murder of the giants, slandered Zeus to Hera and that she went to speak out to Kronos. He gave her two eggs and he rubbed them down with his own semen and ordered her to put them down in the ground from where a spirit would arise who would rebel against Zeus from the beginning. She did this because she was really angry and set them down below Arimos in Kilikia.

But when Typhoeus appeared Hera relented and told Zeus everything. He struck him down with lightning and named him Mt. Aetna. This report works well for us not to have an issue that this is the Homeric Account. He names the grave a resting place euphemistically.”

φασὶ τὴν Γῆν ἀγανακτοῦσαν ἐπὶ τῷ φόνῳ τῶν Γιγάντων διαβαλεῖν Δία τῇ ῞Ηρᾳ. τὴν δὲ πρὸς Κρόνον ἀπελθοῦσαν ἐξειπεῖν. τὸν δὲ δοῦναι αὐτῇ δύο ᾠά, τῷ ἰδίῳ χρίσαντα θορῷ καὶ κελεύσαντα κατὰ γῆς ἀποθέσθαι, ἀφ’ ὧν ἀναδοθήσεται δαίμων ὁ ἀποστήσων Δία τῆς ἀρχῆς. θέσθαι, ἀφ’ ὧν ἀναδοθήσεται δαίμων ὁ ἀποστήσων Δία τῆς ἀρχῆς. ἡ δέ, ὡς εἶχεν ὀργῆς, ἔθετο αὐτὰ ὑπὸ τὸ ῎Αριμον τῆς Κιλικίας. ἀναδο-θέντος δὲ τοῦ Τυφῶνος ῞Ηρα διαλλαγεῖσα Διῒ τὸ πᾶν ἐκφαίνει. ὁ δὲ κεραυνώσας Αἴτνην τὸ ὄρος ὠνόμασεν. καλῶς δὲ καὶ τὸ φασίν, ἵνα  μὴ προσκρούοιμεν ὡς ῾Ομηρικῷ ὄντι τῷ στίχῳ. εὐφήμως δὲ τὸν τάφον εὐνὰς ἐκάλεσεν.

Heracles and Typhon, Acr. 36 plus. From the West Pediment of Hekatompedon. Acropolis Musuem, Athens.

No Love For Troy and Thebes

Anacreonta 26

“You tell stories of Thebes
And the tales of Troy too,
But I sing about my defeats.

No horse destroyed me
Nor infantry, nor ships,
But a strange new enemy,
Assaulting me with his gaze.”

σὺ μὲν λέγεις τὰ Θήβης,
ὁ δ᾿ αὖ Φρυγῶν ἀυτάς,
ἐγὼ δ᾿ ἐμὰς ἁλώσεις.

οὐχ ἵππος ὤλεσέν με,
οὐ πεζός, οὐχὶ νῆες,
στρατὸς δὲ καινὸς ἄλλος
ἀπ᾿ ὀμμάτων με βάλλων.

Anacreonta 23

“I want to speak of the Atreides,
And I want to sing about Cadmos,
But the sound of my strings
Echoes only with Love.

Just yesterday I changed my strings
And then the whole lyre
And I was trying to sing
The labors of Herakles
But the lyre returned
Only the sound of Love.

Goodbye, heroes
For the rest of my time
My lyre sings only tales of Love”

θέλω λέγειν Ἀτρείδας,
θέλω δὲ Κάδμον ᾄδειν,
ἁ βάρβιτος δὲ χορδαῖς
Ἔρωτα μοῦνον ἠχεῖ.

ἤμειψα νεῦρα πρώην
καὶ τὴν λύρην ἅπασαν·
κἀγὼ μὲν ᾖδον ἄθλους
Ἡρακλέους· λύρη δὲ
Ἔρωτας ἀντεφώνει.

χαίροιτε λοιπὸν ἡμῖν,
ἥρωες· ἡ λύρη γὰρ
μόνους Ἔρωτας ᾄδει.


Both of these poems use Troy and Thebes as metonyms for poetic traditions. The second is even more associative, substituting family names for the locations. In both cases, the contrast is between heroic tales of war and the subjects appropriate to lyric songs (love, etc). Troy and Thebes show up as the primary location for the death of the race of heroes in Hesiod too:


Hesiod, Works and Days, 158-165:

“Kronos’ son Zeus made a better and more just third race,
the divine generation of heroic men who are called
hemitheoi, the earlier generation on the boundless earth.
And then evil war and dread conflict wiped them out,
some of them under seven-gated Thebes, the Cadmean land,
where they struggled over the flocks of Oedipus,
and leading others in ships for booty across the sea
at Troy, for the sake of well-tressed Helen.”

Ζεὺς Κρονίδης ποίησε, δικαιότερον καὶ ἄρειον,
ἀνδρῶν ἡρώων θεῖον γένος, οἳ καλέονται
ἡμίθεοι, προτέρη γενεὴ κατ’ ἀπείρονα γαῖαν.
καὶ τοὺς μὲν πόλεμός τε κακὸς καὶ φύλοπις αἰνὴ
τοὺς μὲν ὑφ’ ἑπταπύλῳ Θήβῃ, Καδμηίδι γαίῃ,
ὤλεσε μαρναμένους μήλων ἕνεκ’ Οἰδιπόδαο,
τοὺς δὲ καὶ ἐν νήεσσιν ὑπὲρ μέγα λαῖτμα θαλάσσης
ἐς Τροίην ἀγαγὼν ῾Ελένης ἕνεκ’ ἠυκόμοιο.

Elton Barker and I talk about this passage and its implications for Greek poetics a lot in Homer’s Thebes, available for free from the Center for Hellenic Studies.

Picture of a fragment of a vase. White vase with orange/red ink. Image in center is a line drawing of a lyre with plant life on the side. There are thick borders at the top and bottom
Krater with lyre player. Nafplion, Evangelistria, chamber tomb IV, 1350-1250 BC. Detail. Archaeological Museum of Nafplio.

Tough Call: Vergil or God?

Vergil, Aeneid. 68-79

Unhappy Dido burned from head to toe
and wandered around the city frazzled,
as might a doe struck by an arrow
when, at ease in a Cretan glade, from far off
a shepherd hunting with winged darts pierced her,
and left, unaware of what he had done.
The doe roams Dicte’s woodlands and pastures,
the lethal arrow affixed to her flank.

Now Dido tours the walls with Aeneas,
shows off Sidon’s wealth, the city half built.
She begins to speak but falters midway.
Now she hosts the same feast at each day’s end:
mad to hear again his struggles in Troy,
she implores, and hangs on his words once more.

Augustine, Confessions. I.13.

I was made to learn about the wanderings of a certain Aeneas, while oblivious of my own wanderings, and to weep for dead Dido who for love took her own life. Meanwhile, amid these things, my own death far away from you, O God who is my life, I bore, in my great wretchedness, with dry eyes.

For what is more wretched than the wretch who does not pity himself but cries over the death of Dido, which came of love for Aeneas, and does not cry over his own death, which came of not loving you, O God . . . ?


uritur infelix Dido totaque vagatur
urbe furens, qualis coniecta cerva sagitta,
quam procul incautam nemora inter Cresia fixit
pastor agens telis liquitque volatile ferrum
nescius: illa fuga silvas saltusque peragrat
Dictaeos; haeret lateri letalis harundo.
nunc media Aenean secum per moenia ducit
Sidoniasque ostentat opes urbemque paratam;
incipit effari mediaque in voce resistit;
nunc eadem labente die convivia quaerit,
Iliacosque iterum demens audire labores
exposcit pendetque iterum narrantis ab ore.


… cogebar Aeneae nescio cuius errores, oblitus errorum meorum, et plorare Didonem mortuam, quia se occidit ab amore, cum interea me ipsum in his a te morientem, deus, vita mea, siccis oculis ferrem miserrimus.

Quid enim miserius misero non miserante se ipsum et flente Didonis mortem, quae fiebat amando Aenean, non flente autem mortem suam, quae fiebat non amando te, deus . . .?

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.

The Ancients Say Talk Less

Hesiod, Works & Days 760-764.

Do this: stay clear of men’s awful talk.
Talk’s evil: airy and easy to take up,
But trouble to sustain, and hard to put down.
No talk ever dies once the bulk of men
Get going. In a way Talk too is a god.

ὧδ᾽ ἔρδειν: δεινὴν δὲ βροτῶν ὑπαλεύεο φήμην:
φήμη γάρ τε κακὴ πέλεται, κούφη μὲν ἀεῖραι
ῥεῖα μάλ᾽, ἀργαλέη δὲ φέρειν, χαλεπὴ δ᾽ ἀποθέσθαι.
φήμη δ᾽ οὔτις πάμπαν ἀπόλλυται, ἥν τινα πολλοὶ
λαοὶ φημίξουσι: θεός νύ τίς ἐστι καὶ αὐτή.

Heraclitus Fragments:

Let’s not join in speaking breezily about the most important things.

μὴ εἰκῆ περὶ τῶν μεγίστων συμβαλλώμεθα


A foolish person loves to be distracted by all that’s said.

βλὰξ ἄνθρωπος ἐπὶ παντὶ λόγῳ ἐπτοῆσθαι φιλεῖ

Mosaic of Hesiod. 3rd Century CE.
Rhineland Museum, Trier Germany.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at featsofgreek.blogspot.com.